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Bitcoin developer talks regulation, open source and the elusive Satoshi Nakamoto

Jeff Garzik says the Bitcoin creator was a brilliant architect and economist but that his coding left a bit do be desired

By , IDG News Service
May 19, 2013 03:22 PM ET

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IDGNS: So they're paying you to strengthen the Bitcoin platform overall.

JG: Exactly, because if I make Bitcoin better, that benefits Bitpay.

IDGNS: There are a lot of parallels between Bitcoin and open source, politically and philosophically.

JG: A lot of people are into the whole libertarian aspect, I think of it more as an interesting engineering project. When I first heard about Bitcoin, I thought it was impossible. How can you have a purely digital currency? Can't I just copy your hard drive and have your bitcoins? I didn't understand how that could be done, and then I looked into it and it was brilliant.

IDGNS: There's a lot of powerful hardware coming onto the market for mining bitcoins [mining is how new bitcoins enter the system]. What is there to stop, say, Google from loading the Bitcoin software into one of its data centers and mining all the remaining bitcoins?

JG: Technically nothing, but in practice CPUs are powerless against ASICs [custom chips designed specifically for bitcoin mining]. Google would have to manufacture its own ASICs for that to have an impact, and that's never really been a worry. The worry now is who controls the foundries that produce the chips, so you have to think a couple of levels up.

IDGNS: Like TSMC?

JG: Yeah, you have companies designing the ASICs and then the chip foundries make them. Who's to say the foundry won't simply produce a million chips on top of your thousand-chip order?

IDGNS: Are you afraid that will happen?

JG: There are enough people who are pursuing ASICs that it isn't likely, but that's the current battle over decentralization of mining, that and mining pools.

IDGNS: What are the big obstacles to Bitcoin achieving world domination?

JG: I would never recommend Bitcoin as a nation state currency that you're forced to use, but I think it's great as a private currency that you're free to choose if you want to. It's just very frictionless, you can trade it with free software.

The biggest hurdle may be the volatility, as you suggested. For regular users, I agree that's off-putting to a certain extent. I think it's something that will diminish over time, but it's a free market so there's no guarantee. Just introducing new people to Bitcoin is hard as well. It's technologically complex, how do I explain it to my aunt? But then, to a certain extent you don't have to understand it, you can download a Bitcoin wallet in the Android market, scan a QR code and you have bitcoins.

IDGNS: Is Satoshi still involved in Bitcoin's development?

JG: My personal opinion of him as a project leader is that he's not a good project leader. My opinion of him as an engineer is that he's a mediocre engineer. My opinion of him as an architect-slash-economist is that he's brilliant. He released Bitcoin and there were a bunch of obvious bugs and attacks that got fixed in the first six months, then there were less serious bugs that got fixed. He designed the system, fundamentally it works and it hasn't been hacked, but the software is sort of a crap program.

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